Who Can I Talk To When Something Goes Wrong?

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.


Sometimes things just seem “hinky” (I learned this pop culture word from my children!). The Hinky Meter is our internal “something’s just not right” detector.

There are few things worse than the suspicion or realization that you have been singled out to be picked on by your colleagues, fellow professionals and even your manager. And the truly sorry part is that what you’re feeling is most likely correct. Where there’s smoke there is usually fire. Even people with whom you have worked and trusted will be reluctant to step up in your defense.

In most nurses’ experiences, it is NOT productive to go to a nurse manager, administrator or your employee assistance department. Why? Because they work in the same place that you do and are usually not inclined to rock the boat and take you seriously. These people also may very well be theabusers and would rather see you GONE than to investigate what is going on. They don’t want it known that there is discord in their unit because this messes up their climb to the top.

If a patient is in danger, you have a moral and professional responsibility to report the facts to agencies such as Medicare and the state licensing board(s) if your employer fails to investigate (after you have been through the “channels”). Patients and their families also have the right to report, and more of them are doing exactly that. Hospitals that receive federal funding are required to provide the national hotline number to all patients.

So where do I go? Who can I talk to?

You need someone who is outside of your institution and whose ethics demand the same secrecy as yours. Your family is not likely to understand. They just know that something is bothering you. A person who is NOT associated with your workplace is best, even if you have to go out of town to speak with them. Do you have a nurse friend who has no association with your employer but who has a very high degree of integrity? A doctor who can help you cope with the emotional toil? Just know – NO ONE should have to suffer alone!

Even a lawyer, especially one who is a former RN, would be ideal—if you need legal recourse, you already have an advocate in your court. In many larger cities there are law firms that take on pro bono cases and can present evidence of persecution, harassment or any other violation of a person’s civil rights.

Notice that I did not specifically list clergy members—they usually are not in a position to help you directly. However, if talking to a priest or minister who is also bound by the sanctity of the church (as in the confessional) gives you inner strength and hope, then by all means do so. In Alcoholics Anonymous there is a saying: “Let go and let God.”

This kind of mess HURTS, and hurts badly! It’s critical that you don’t allow what is going on in the workplace to destroy you as a person or as the fine, caring nurse that you have become!

Should I blog?

Sure? Just BE SURE you set up a private site which is password protected. Even with those precautions, remember that ANYTHING can be hacked! Do not trade relevant text messages on your cell phone for the same reason. Colleges and internet cafes are good places to go to do your blogging. Make sure you CLEAR the history on the computer when you leave.

It’s better to keep a handwritten journal of names, dates, times, events and other data at home. If you are reported to the state board (or worse, arrested) after following all of the steps to protect yourself, you will have a case and can get affidavits and depositions from the people who are already in your corner and who have their own records of your story.

Say or sign NOTHING except in the presence of your attorney no matter WHAT the state board or police tell you. Your license, name and address plus any actions taken against your license will stay on the board’s website FOR THE REST OF YOUR CAREER! Even when you have paid up on the charge(s), it will be there for anyone to view. Remember that YOU have rights! You do not give up these rights just because you go to work for someone.

Sounds like a bad spy novel!

Yes, it does. But remember that you are fighting not only for your job but also your license, career and reputation. The sad fact is, sometimes the people who are persecuting you do not care about anyone but themselves and will make up lies to get what THEY want–which is to get rid of YOU! Sometimes even good girls need to sue the bastards! You have the right to not be harassed at work.

Keep your head up and serve proudly. The best thought you can hold is the knowledge that you kept the faith (with the patients and with yourself!) and did the good work today as you travel home. There IS a light at the end of the tunnel!

Never to know that you are beaten is the way to victory. (Florence Nightingale).

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.



  1. I’m sorry to hear such tales. I started as a nursing assistant, eventually became a nurse, eventually became an NP. All with the support of *most* of my nursing colleagues, and I include everyone CNA, LPN, RN, BSN, NP in that collection.

    If you are in a nasty atmosphere – it’s easy to notice. What is the gossip/commentary? Are people saying generally sympathetic things about people who aren’t present? The style won’t change when it’s you who are gone (and being spoken of). I generally have a “listen, but don’t comment and don’t repeat comments” strategy which works well for me, and if I can, I’ll be non-specifically supportive of folks not having a good day, or having been on the receiving end of a “bad day/shift/month”.

    I say speak up in general. Say hello, smile. Your presence contributes to the atmosphere – so be aware of what you contribute and choose something you can be proud of. If something is wrong, and you don’t do anything, you send the message to everyone that you support it. No you don’t have to fix it, and yest, if it’s bad, leave. No one should stay in a toxic atmosphere. That being said it’s a continuum, not a black and white either/or “terrific” or “unbearable” work environment.

  2. This bullying and meaness is going to be the
    End of nursing. In the end there is no solution
    But to find another job. Nurses really do eat
    Their young. Between bullies and corporate
    Greed good nurses have no chance.

  3. This is not just in a nursing environment. After experiencing this in a hospital and in clinical settings I moved in to corporate America. 30 years in that environment with numerous experiences as you have described. However, maybe it’s age but I feel that the mean-spiritedness enveloped with all of the technology today makes it even more exemplified. It is everywhere. Don’t back down. You CAN stand up for what is ethical and protect those who may not have a voice. Nothing and no one is too ‘big’ to take on when you bring your heart and do what you feel and know is right.

  4. After many different jobs in nursing I am in a good work culture with a great crew of nurses who help one another. They give me validation and like me. It’s great, but I’m the same person who was one foot out the door and feeling hopeless inside the same organization. Different department now. It’s a shame that it’s so easy for nurses to make a culture of competition and undermining, where everyone is afraid that they will be the scapegoat. Especially when it’s possible to apply kindness to our peers and lower everyone’s stress.

  5. I lived through this and am grateful to be retired. My tales would make best selling novels but who wants to relive it. Nursing is a profession of juxtaposition with the tasks to be caring but what goes on with management, other nurses, and fellow professionals is hell.

  6. I read this with high hopes…maybe there was an answer to how to stop the harassment I’ve been going through. Instead, all you offer is the “suck it up” mentality, and say “don’t let if affect you”. Really?

    Nurses can be the worst (and the best at being the worst). They are catty, deceptive, and get some kind of joy out of belittling and humiliating one of their own. Instead of helping their peers, some of them like to set up people to make themselves look “smart” by making the others look dumb. And they usually run in packs! God help you if you have a shift with ALL of them!

    Doctor’s love them, because they’re usually the take charge type. Patients adore them because they spend their shift pointing out all the things the previous shift nurse did…and they’re so much better. And if you’re not one of them, you’re afraid you might be the next target so you steer clear of them. They will run you right out of a job!

    I’ve always wanted to be a nurse, and when the opportunity came to work with an elite group of nurses on a Trauma Unit, I was thrilled. Instead of welcoming me into their fold, being understanding that my background in nursing was much different, and using learning opportunities to teach instead of berate, I was humiliated and made to look stupid. Because of going to the manager, I was even more of a target. These women filled me with such apprehension, I began making mistakes, feared having to ask a question. It was horrible…and, just like your article says, there was nothing I could do except quit. l


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